AWW Feature: Making sense of the darkness by Jessie Cole

Welcome Jessie Cole!

Jessie Cole grew up in an isolated valley in Northern NSW, and lived a bush childhood of creek swimming and barefoot free-range adventuring. As a child she travelled widely with her family, backpacking throughout Asia and Italy. Today, she lives in her family home with her two sons, her mother, her soulful dog, two cats, and various carpet snakes.

Jessie’s work has appeared in Meanjin, Kill Your Darlings, Island Magazine and the Big Issue. In 2009 Jessie was awarded the HarperCollins Varuna Award for Manuscript Development, leading to the publication of her debut novel Darkness on the Edge of Town, released in July 2012. Set in an isolated valley in Northern New South Wales, it is a haunting tale of  loss,  tenderness and violence. Vincent is nearly forty years old, with little to show for his life except his precious sixteen-year-old daughter, Gemma: sensitive, insightful and wise beyond her years. When a stranger crashes her car outside Vincent and Gemma’s bush home, their lives take a dramatic turn. In an effort to help the stranded woman, father and daughter are drawn into a world of unexpected and life-changing consequences.

I am pleased to host Jessie Cole at Book’d Out today as part of my Australian Women Writers feature. You can read my five star review HERE but I encourage you to read this thoughtful guest post about the genesis of Darkness of the Edge of Town…

Making sense of the darkness

Writing fiction is the most mysterious process. It is easy to believe when you read a story in a book – the finished product – that the writer has constructed everything in a kind of conscious clever way. (If the book is working!). But it has never been like that for me.

I wrote Darkness on the Edge of Town four years ago, and when I read it now I am staggered by how it seems to run so smoothly – as though it was plotted and conceived – as though I had planned all those things I wanted to say. In fact, the process was nothing like that.

I had written a manuscript before Darkness on the Edge, a piece of fictionalised autobiography reflecting on what had been a particularly traumatic adolescence. During that time I had come to use writing to digest the parts of my experience that were difficult or unmanageable. It had become a tool for me, a way I’d developed to communicate with myself. In a sense, it had become a habit. I didn’t think of myself as a writer, and I didn’t think of the writing as a product. I saw it largely as some kind of outward, graspable expression of my inner self, as though I could hand over that first MS to a stranger and say – ‘This is where I’ve been. This is who I am.’

After I’d written that autobiographical story I was very peaceful. I had spoken the unspeakable and – metaphorically, at least – breached that gap between myself and the outside world. I wondered about publication, and made a few attempts to share my writing beyond my family, but deep down I felt the work was completed, even without a wider audience. It was out of me, and that was enough. I was free and light; unencumbered by the past. My story was on the page and not hanging heavily about my neck. I don’t think I believed I had another story in me.

But life isn’t like that, is it? A couple of years later I experienced a constellation of events that left me reeling. A short relationship with a man that was so dazzlingly confusing I was floored, and at the same time, a close friend’s baby slowly died. The two events combined seemed to break something open inside me, revealing a world of potential suffering I had stealthily kept out of view. While my friend nursed her dying baby with a warrior courage, I crumbled, as though the very ground I was standing on was suddenly giving way. And in that time Darkness on the Edge of Town was born.

The story came to me in one powerful strike. It hit me like a whack on the back of the head, the voices so strong and clear all I had to do was find the time to write them down. I didn’t think at all about what I was saying – about the deeper thematic meaning of the text – I was simply compelled by the characters and the situation they found themselves in. Four years on I can look at my work and see that I was grappling with the transience of life. That I was wondering about power relations and love, about kindness and abuse – and about how these things entwine. That I was trying to understand what responsibility we have for each other as fellow human beings, and perhaps especially what responsibility we have for those who are most fragile amongst us. But at the time I had very little awareness of these things, they sat somewhere in the periphery of my vision, always just out of reach.

Trying to make sense of how Darkness could come to light in such an intuitive way still leaves me a little confounded. And on top of that it is now a book! Something that others can read. Something that you might read. And I would like to be able to sit here and say – ‘yes, well, I had been thinking about things deeply and decided to construct a tale in which to share my thoughts …’ but this simply was not so. In truth, I was blindsided by a story that sprung with unexpected force from some invisible place inside me and now I’m sharing it with you.

And I hope – if you read it – you enjoy it. I hope that you will see that even though sometimes the terrain of Darkness on the Edge of Town is tough, at its heart there is a tenderness. There is love and there is kindness. There is the intimacy that is created when one person holds out their hand to another.

And sometimes, this is enough.

Find Jessie Cole @

Website I Facebook I Goodreads

Available To Purchase

@Harper Collins I @BoomerangBooks I @Booktopia I @Amazon Kindle

via Booko

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kate Rizzetti
    Oct 16, 2012 @ 08:54:40

    Wow – this is exactly the sort of author I want to read. Work that comes from these flawed places is usually moving and meaningful. Thanks for sharing. It’s on my list to get hold of.

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  2. Lisa Walker
    Oct 16, 2012 @ 09:21:47

    What a lovely post, Jessie, brought tears to my eyes. I can sincerely recommend this book for anyone who hasn’t yet read it – it’s honest, powerful and beautiful.

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  3. Stephanie @ Read in a Single Sitting
    Oct 16, 2012 @ 12:54:15

    Wow, what a moving post. I had the chills reading this. Thank you for this wonderful feature!

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  4. Trackback: Review: Darkness on the Edge of Town by Jessie Cole « book'd out
  5. Storm Tara
    Oct 19, 2013 @ 16:47:21

    I loved the book, although I had a mixed reaction at the end, not that it wasn’t upon reflection without Hope, in Pandora’s Box, but that so much had been lost and found for Rachel. I guess she became central to my own feelings and thoughts of love, how somebody can get through so much, and yet she had won and lost too as much as Vincent. I’d like to think Rachel found her family connection after the edning, started again, and perhaps that Vince realizes his folley and makes a fist of his life, that Gemma’s life flourishes, not without its trials also, but in the end fate perhaps a couple of years later reunites them. Yup, I am an incurable romantic, but the forge of life can through the darker and lighter moments of our lives preform the alchemy necessary for growth, change and a stronger loving boud than before. Vince lost out in some ways, I like how the male characters in some way were at polar opposition but in some ways, how anger and rage is a countre productive force, Rachel was dragged into the fire at the end, and walked away clean, yet the open ended chaos for Vince tantelizes, if there is a sequel I’d definitely read it. I love the image of the butterflies, black and blue wings, was this a conscious symbolic thing, as Vince’s recalling of the butterflies on the road, and he being glad he slowed down on the road as these creatures drank from road puddles presented a tableaux of the main plot for me,or a sub-plot, people like Rachel and Vincent are very much like these winged beings. Thank you Jessie for writing this, as I am writing myself, it always is a pleasure to read and it is food for my muses. Look forward to more from you!

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  6. Trackback: AWW Feature: Jessie Cole and Deeper Water | book'd out

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